Philosophy Hammer
Philosophy, Economics, Politics & Psychology Tested with a Hammer

91: Carol J. Adams part I:
The Patriarchal Texts of Meat

Summary by: Jeff McLaren

         The point of Carol Adam's book "The Sexual Politics of Meat, A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory," is to identify and eliminate a culture of oppression that is so prevalent it is almost invisible to most people. It is about making new connections of understanding. It is engaged theory that envisions what is possible and gives a recipe to realize the change. (Q1)
         The sexual politics of meat as engaged theory makes us first see that ideas have a causal link to actions; they create subjects that act. These actions can exemplify relations of equality or dominance. Our culture is one of dominance. Secondly it makes us stop fragmenting activism – “we cannot polarize human and animal suffering since they are interrelated.” (Q2)
         The sexual politics of meat “is an attitude and action that animalizes women and sexualizes and feminizes animals.” A corollary is that meat and women are interchangeable. Consider the following interchangeability in our culture: men need meat/women, have the right to meat/women, and the consumption of meat/women is a male activity associated with virility. As long as these statements are an accurate description of our culture the sexual politics of meat is relevant.
         The author’s purpose is “to make the covert associations overt by explaining how our patriarchal culture authorizes the eating of animals and in this to identify the cross-mapping between feminism and vegetarianism.”
         The Patriarchal Texts of Meat
         The notion of a “text” does three things: 1) provides a message, 2) promotes un-changeability through repetition of meaning in every (or most) context of life and, 3) reveals an apparently coherent system of relations. The texts of meat provide, promote and reveal the political-cultural context of meat’s meaning through a huge, vast and complex array of subtle and not so subtle hints, cues, and examples.
         “it [meat] carries a recognizable message – meat is seen as an item of food, for most meat is an essential and nutritious item of food; its meaning recurs continuously at mealtimes, in advertisement, in conversations; and it is comprised of a system of relations having to do with food production, attitudes toward animals, and by extension, acceptable violence toward them.”
         Meat’s reoccurring message is rarely questioned due to the patriarchal support it enjoys. Meat is very closely associated with the male role and other “male” attitudes such as: the ends justify the means, objectification of other beings is necessary, and violence is necessary but should be hidden. (Q3)
         “The hierarchy of meat protein reinforces a hierarchy of race, class, and sex.” Consider that often meat is considered a male food; when there is less to go around men usually get it first; women are supposed to cook for men; the upper class could afford it better; during war soldier were the first to get it; and the various mythologies where white man dominated Indians and Chinese because the white man ate meat and the others didn’t eat meat. (Q4)
         There is a modern superstition at work: in eating the muscles of strong animals we have killed we become strong. From this superstition it is a small step to believe meat eaters are stronger than vegetarians; men should have meat first; and the meat should help a ruler get strong to rule. (Q5)
         Today, meat is also a psychological compensator. Today the notion of maleness is performative – being male has to be performed or acted out. As we have more professions that require a man to sit at his desk all day the compensation of meat eating, with its “positive” connotations, serves to alleviate feelings of lack of power, virility, and machoism. Whereas vegetable in today’s culture comes with negative connotations such dullness, passivity and femininity. In this context the expression “you are what you eat” takes on another superstitious dimension. (Q6)

Q1 What does the notion “engaged theory” suggest to you?
Q2 The author seems to suggest that animal and human suffering cannot be separated. Are there more or less important issues of dominations and exploitation? Or are they all important? Are all (or most) forms of domination and exploitation really interconnected? If so how?
Q3 Are these really male actions, attitudes, and values? Can you think of anymore? A test of male action, attitudes, or values can be conducted in two steps: 1) if the value in question is just accepted as unchangeable part of being male it may be entirely a male attitude; 2) if a woman holds or preforms the same action, attitude, or value she is considered from a negative or undesirable perspective. For example men are leaders but when women try to lead they are considered bossy. Is meat consumption really a male action?
Q4 The same test for male dominant actions, attitudes and values can also be conducted in terms of race and class. Is this true in your experience? Is meat really a race and class distinguisher?
Q5 We often laugh at voodoo and other primitive superstitions that say we should eat the flesh or drink the blood of our vanquished enemies or prey. Yet it is a real part of what Roman Catholics do to partake of God and his grace. The modern version of the superstition involves believing that meat will make us strong and healthy. How does the notion that our love of meat is really based on a superstition strike you?
Q6 Is the notion that “you are what you eat” a superstition? Do you believe there is some meaningful truth in the statement?

© 2008 - 2018, James Jeff McLaren